By Polly Keary, Editor
Dave Murray was an affable Santa Claus at Christmas, a respected business operator of the Mail Station in Monroe, and a well-liked resident of Gold Bar.
Last week, more than a year after his death from cancer, the FBI caught up with him.
He was also apparently a fugitive prison escapee who’d been on the lam since 1987, when he’d broken out of a Missouri prison and, with his wife Mary, vanished.
And his wife, now known as Amanda, may have taken one last step to protect the identity she’d helped shield for 30 years, burying his body in the backyard of their home, where remains were found following a sheriff’s search.
Now, the couple’s daughter is minding the store while Amanda prepares to defend herself against possible charges for rendering criminal assistance and/or unlawful disposal of human remains.
Many community members in Monroe were shocked when the news broke in an Everett Herald story Thursday morning.
“Crazy!” was an oft-repeated comment, and many said that they would never have suspected such a thing.
“This is CRAZY! The kind of thing you hear about someplace else. What a crazy tale — someone else posted, they see a movie in the future — yes, this would be a good lifetime movie!” posted Michele Burley Cotterill. “I don’t remember the man, but the woman was always kind every time I went in.”
“I know her from the gym,” echoed Becky Lundberg Clark. “Didn’t know her super well, but spoke to her almost daily. She’s a nice woman.”
No one was more surprised than the man who owns the business next door to the Mail Station. Mitch Ruth, owner of Ruth Realty, got to know Amanda and Dave Murray fairly well in the years since the Murrays bought the Mail Station in 2008.
“I have nothing negative to say about either one of them,” he said. “Dave and I interacted on a near-daily basis and I never suspected a thing.”
When Dave and Amanda Murray bought the business in November of 2008 from Sultan’s Kati
Chase, who left town to pursue a music career, they and adult daughter Veronica commissioned a New Business story from the Monroe Monitor.
The friendly family seemed very happy and excited about the new enterprise, and Dave and Amanda were also very excited about their new grandbaby; Veronica had an infant.
They maintained and increased the small gift shop at the front of the store, added a Sunday delivery service and upgraded equipment.
They also held positions of great trust, serving as a notary public (the Monroe Monitor was once a regular client) and running a bill pay service in which people could bring in cash and the company could make instant electronic payments on their behalf to certain companies.
The family also took a role in the community. Dave, a portly man who could grow a full beard, enjoyed playing Santa Claus at Christmas as he and the family handled the thousands of Christmas packages that came into the shop, and families would bring kids in for photos.
The Murrays also took an interest in local politics, and even from time to time assisted law enforcement; once Dave called the Monroe Police to report that someone in the Virgin Islands had sent a child porn catalog to someone’s mailbox at the Mail Station.
And occasionally, as police investigated some matter such as check forgery or mail fraud, they’d come into the Mail Station to investigate, and the Murrays always cooperated, according to Ruth.
Not long after the family took over, though, it became apparent that Dave was seriously ill.
He had pancreatic cancer, and spoke to neighbor Mitch Ruth about it freely.
“I watched him waste away and he did that with dignity and courage. He never complained,” Ruth. “I talked to him about it, and I felt compassion. How could you not?”
He also saw them struggle through the recession, he said.
But even through the hard times, they seemed happy, he added. And when Dave died last year, Amanda seemed grief-stricken.
“They always seemed to be very much in love, and kind toward each other, and I thought it was natural that when he passed away it was like she’d lost the wind beneath her wings,” he said.
She talked to Ruth about selling the Mail Station, and eventually listed it with him.
It is currently for sale, but remains open, while a family member operates it on Amanda’s behalf.
A new story emerges
A thousand miles away in Chicago, just as Dave’s battle with cancer was coming to an end, an old investigation was getting new life.
An employee of an online stock trading firm got an application to trade stock from a woman named Amanda Murray. The application was denied because her social security number didn’t match her name.
The employee got curious. He ran the social security number through a database, and found that it matched someone by the name of Mary Elizabeth Lilly.
And further investigation revealed that Mary Elizabeth Lilly had a very interesting husband.
Dennis Schley “Slick” Lilly was born in 1947, and by the time he was in his mid-30s, he’d gone thoroughly outlaw.
According to a companion website to America’s Most Wanted, at 28, he was sentenced to five years for burglary and theft. Three days after arriving in jail, he and four others tunneled out through a brick wall and into a neighboring courthouse, using pieces of pipe as shovels. They then smashed out a skylight and fled.
Lilly was only free two weeks that time.
In 1977, he did it again, fleeing in a prison truck. This time he stayed free for three weeks.
In 1981, in prison in Kansas for robbery, burglary and vehicle theft, Lilly pulled off his third escape, donning a stolen prison officer uniform and bluffing his way into a control tower, where he and six others overtook it. They walked out one gate and climbed two fences to get away.
But hours later, after a gun battle with police in which Lilly wounded an officer, he was back in jail.
This time he was sent to Missouri State Penitentiary, where he married his pen-pal, Mary Elizabeth Reidy, while incarcerated. At 30, she’d already been married twice, but this relationship would last.
In 1987, Lilly broke out of prison for the last time, once again using the ruse of stealing an officer’s uniform. According to the companion site to the America’s Most Wanted website, he stole the uniform piece-by-piece. When it was complete, he made a paper maché dummy head of toilet paper, painted it a flesh tone, glued his own hair to the head, and left it in his cell. Then he walked out of the prison amid the officers during a shift change.
Shortly thereafter, Mary quit her job, and with a child from a previous marriage, vanished.
For the next 10 years, little is known of their whereabouts.
Lilly appeared on America’s Most Wanted more than once. In 2001, a woman reported seeing him in Mexico. In 2008, he appeared on the show again, but tips came to naught.
Recent FBI research now suggests that Mary had changed her name to Amanda Murray by 1989, as there are no records of a woman of that name at any time prior to that.
In 1988, Lilly seems to have appropriated the social security number of a long-dead Arkansas man who was born in 1881. And in 1989, Amanda appears to have started using the SSN of an Asian man from California who was born in 1928.
When they arrived in the Sky Valley is still unclear, but by 1997, Dave at least was living at the couple’s 2nd Street home in Gold Bar. But he also showed addresses in Everett and San Francisco, suggesting the couple separated for a time.
Veronica was born in Washington and lived in Gold Bar until 19, then finally married and relocated to Everett. In 2011, it seems she ran a non-profit to help raise money for Dave’s cancer expenses.
It seemed as though the FBI case had gone cold.
But last week, it broke open again.
As the FBI agents in Chicago followed up on the information provided by the stock trading firm employee, they went through the Facebook pages of each family member, determining that the pictures matched those of the fugitives in key ways, despite the years that had passed.
Driver’s license pictures further matched.
And Amanda in 2013 seems to have resumed using her real social security number, the one she’d gotten in her original name, formally changing her name from Mary Elizabeth Lilly to Amanda Mary Murray.
After Dave’s death in June of 2012, it seems Amanda may have been relaxing her decades-long habit of vigilance.
January 14, an FBI agent drove to the Mail Station, walked in, and addressed Amanda, saying, “Hello, Mary.”
Amanda only said that she hadn’t been called that name in years. The agent asked where Dave was, and Amanda said she thought he’d died. She grew troubled and said they’d separated nine years earlier, and that Dave had returned four years ago with terminal pancreatic cancer and wanting to die with his family around him.
He apparently lived in a trailer on Amanda’s property, and Amanda lived in the house. Doctor’s records bear out that he was being treated for pancreatic cancer.
Dave stopped eating. He said he didn’t want his death discovered or Amanda to get in trouble.
When he finally succumbed in bed at the Gold Bar home about June 20, 2012, he weighed 100 pounds. According to court papers, Amanda said she waited until everyone left the house, then dug a hole and buried Dave’s body in the backyard, telling others she’d had him cremated.
Jan. 15, Amanda refused to provide more information until consulting an attorney. Her attorney responded to a Monitor email inviting her to comment, politely saying that he had advised her not to speak of the case.
The Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office conducted a search of the property, seizing property, tax and other records, one rifle that appears to have been stolen, and the remains of a human body, found buried in the backyard.
“The medical examiner will identify the body as well as the cause and manner of death,” said Shari Ireton of the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Department. “At this time, pending whatever the medical examiner finds, we don’t expect to recommend charges to be made.”
What the FBI might do remains to be seen. Amanda, as of yet, has not been arrested.
As the community comments on the internet spun on through the day, many remembered the couple as “hippyish and definitely anti-government” but “nice and helpful.” Others worried about the fate of the corgi dogs that Amanda kept with her, even at the store.
Some said they thought Amanda should go to jail for helping Dave, or Dennis, as it turns out his name was. Other called such a measure a waste of time and resources, suggesting that they leave the family alone. A number said they thought it would make for a good movie.
And one woman reminded others that there are yet people who could be hurt by the startling revelation of the truth of the family’s history, especially Veronica, the daughter.
“Can’t help but to feel for her through all this,” wrote the woman. “Her life just had a major shift.”